1. Cause must always precede effect. 2. You cannot be conscious of a thought before you think it. 3. Therefore, you cannot consciously cause thoughts. The logic seems infallible. However, it is intensely counterintuitive. It seems like common sense to say, "I consciously create my thoughts."

It may be that I'm missing the point (I haven't had my daily ration of chocolate yet), but what's wrong with this way of looking at it?

Conscious or not, a thought can't be its own cause -- at least, not given our usual assumptions. That's what I take your premise 1 to entail. And it seems right: I can't be conscious of a particular thought X before I think it. (It may be, for all that, that I can think it before I'm conscious of it.) But why can't my conscious thought X be the cause of a later conscious thought Y? For example, my thinking now about a jigger of gin might cause me to think, a moment later, that there's a bottle of gin in the freezer.

Or maybe the issue is this: if I'm going to consciously cause a thought about Vienna, the content of that thought must already be part of the thought that does the causing. In that case, I'm conscious of the thought before I've thought it, contrary to premise 2. But then premise 2 ends up suspect, doesn't it? Couldn't I be sitting here thinking of Vienna, and enjoying it so much that it inspires me to make a mental note: "After I rearrange my sock drawer, I'm going to think of Vienna again." So my present thought of Vienna would be a cause of my future thought -- a thought with the same content (same thought "type") but a different occurence (different thought "token.")

I'd add, however, that the bit of common sense may not really be so common-sensical. A good many of the thoughts I have don't seem to be caused consciously at all. In fact, sometimes I wonder where in the world they came from. Very few of my thoughts are ones that I consciously decided to have. (Perhaps some people will think that this explains a great deal!)

Read another response by Allen Stairs
Read another response about Mind